Monday, April 7, 2014

What to think about White Noise, by Don DeLillo

In my previous post about White Noise, I said I would return to answer the question, "Do you agree" (with the author's argument)?  

Author's argument recap

(This is only my opinion.)  Man is losing his humanness - his ability to be well-grounded, in touch with reality - because he is inundated with FALSE advertisements, products, ideas, premonitions, opinions, technologies, etc. to make himself a better human being, when instead he has become more uninformed, dull, fearful, and robotic.  

When the main character, Jack, and his wife, Babette, admit they have a fear of death, they believe a little pill has the power to erase that fear because its distributor says it will.  But it does not.  Instead, the couple is left to naturally cope with their own insecurities.  (We're not Brave New World, yet).

So, do I agree?  

I think DeLillo makes a great argument.  I can see evidence that society is becoming brain dead with overstimulation of information, technology, and consumerism, and we are not any smarter or wiser, happier or more peaceful, or capable of healthy communication. We put faith in technology, medicine, and marketing to educate us, inform us, make us live longer, healthy, happy lives; yet, we are unsophisticated, more dependent on outward sources, unable to cope, still miserable, and still immortal.  Let me rephrase: NOT everyone suffers these ills, but these issues still exist and are not going away. They are still with us and spreading.

The most important point

Jack's colleague made an important point when she told Jack that knowledge and fear of death are essential to feeling the fullness of life.  (She doesn't say that, per se, but I am presenting it differently.) People need to have finality of life in order to appreciate life; otherwise, if they never recognize the end, what is there to be grateful for?  

Jack copes - at least, that is what I understand, because there is no real determinant.  He seems to find peace in watching his children sleep or being with his three-year old, who is free from the burden of the knowledge of death. His son lives on the edge because he is not afraid of danger or death.  He LIVES, and Jack lives through him.

What I do not agree with

Now, I do not agree that it is healthy to live through others, but Jack is not exactly well grounded to begin with.  He is not a strong character, within the novel.  He is married numerous times and has zero authority with his children and stepchildren; in fact, they make him appear foolish.  He is a feeble man who teaches Hitler studies at the local college.  Even that is a cover-up.   

I wrote in my notes that Jack “is an idiot” because he has no outward reaction to Babette’s infidelity.  Instead, Babette scolds him for wanting to know the individual whom she exchanged sexual favors with for the pill that is supposed to erase her fears.  She says, 
Ask yourself what it is you want more, to ease your ancient fear or to revenge your childish dopey injured male pride.  
That was totally unwarranted; and, yet, he did not defend himself.

A personal opinion

To conclude, I sympathized with Jack and Babette because I understood their fear of death.  In my late teens, I endured a fear of death, too, when several of my peers died, and I did not understand it.  It upset me to know that someone my age could die.  I was so afraid and had no answers; death was the end of life, and that horrified me.  

Today, as a Christian, I know what happens to us when we die.  Death is no longer an unknown.  But Jack and Babette were lost - so lost, they foolishly put their faith into anything that promised to eradicate their fear, as if that would be sufficient.  They guessed what death would be like and then sought to deaden or mask the fear.  I thought: if only they knew the Truth, they would not have to fear at all. They would not need magic pills or to seek peace through their wild three-year old, living on the edge.  

By the end of the novel, I thought Jack was going to actually learn the Truth. He entered a Catholic hospital, for goodness sake! He even probed a nun about life and death.  But, she was an unbelieving nun!  Who ever heard of an unbelieving nun?  She was a dead end - a lost opportunity for the main character to finally receive the Good News so that he would never have to be afraid of dying again. The irony of it all!  I guess that is why White Noise is a comical satire.   

Add it to my "reread someday" pile

However, while I think the novel has some flaws, and the writing is not complex, I found it humorously entertaining.  It was totally 80's.  
I just may add it to my "reread someday" pile.


Cleo said...

Thanks for the review, Ruth. My husband has been reading some books by Marshall McLuhan on technology and its affect of de-humanizing us. I'll have to recommend this book to him.

Ruth said...

Definitely. I don't know McLuhan's works, or when he wrote, but DeLillo was writing about this idea back in the 80's.